Slowly We Trust by Chelsea M. Cameron




  Slowly We Trust (Fall and Rise, Book Three)

  Copyright © 2014 Chelsea M. Cameron

  www.chelseamcameron.com

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are use fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business establishments or locales is entirely coincidental.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. All rights reserved.

  Cover design by Sarah Hansen from Okay Creations

  Edited by Jen Hendricks

  Interior Design by NovelNinjutsu.com

  The first thing I noticed about Audrey Valdez was her hair, falling like a dark sheet of silk down her back. The second was her ass. Hey, it’s not my fault that I noticed she had a great one. I’d figured out from reading between the lines of my twin sister Lottie’s description that Audrey was a knockout, but I had no idea how absolutely beautiful she’d be when I met her in person.

  I couldn’t stop myself from mouthing fuck me at Lottie behind Audrey’s back when she got in line in front of me to get lunch. Lottie just gave me a scathing look, and I went back to staring at Audrey’s glorious backside. I’d already prepared my usual material that made most girls swoon within seconds, but when I saw her . . . every single word went out of my head. It was a miracle she’d talked to me at all when we’d sat down together. I’d made a complete ass out of myself and Lottie had ripped me a new one afterwards. I was still sore.

  I never quite knew where I stood with Audrey, which was one of the things I liked so much about her. But tonight? I was going to find out.

  “You have to wear it,” Lottie said as she chased me around the living room with one of those stupid Happy New Year hats. I’d refused to wear one on account of it messing up my hair, but I knew that sooner or later, Lottie was going to force one on my head. She always had the knack of getting what she wanted. I looked to Simon (my supposed best friend) to help me out, but he just laughed and told me I was on my own before going back to cuddling with his boyfriend, Brady. Traitor.

  “If I’m wearing one, you’re wearing one,” Lottie’s boyfriend, Zan, said from his position on the living room couch. He seemed to find my interactions with Lottie hilarious. After wanting to kill him with my bare hands for so many years, I was still sort of getting used to having him around. But Lottie loved him, and he loved her. So I had to suck it up and keep my mouth shut.

  “Ditto,” Trish said from her place in the recliner. She was grumpy because her brand new boyfriend, Max, couldn’t come with us tonight. Then again, grumpy seemed to be her normal status.

  Lottie finally dived at me and sunk her fingers into the ticklish spot on my ribs. I knew I was done for as she tackled me and shoved the glittery hat on my head.

  “There,” she said, panting, “that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I glared up at her and blew some of my hair out of my face. She’d said she was going to cut it for me a while ago, but had never paid up.

  I just shoved her off me as she laughed.

  “When is Aud getting here?” she said, going to the couch and sitting next to Zan as he put his arm around her.

  I checked the clock.

  “Right about now,” I said as I heard a car in the driveway. Stryker (Trish’s brother) and Katie, Lot’s former roommate, would be here a little bit later. I tried not to run to the door to get to Audrey. I hadn’t seen her in a week and I missed her like crazy.

  Instead I walked calmly, at a normal pace, to the door after she knocked. I opened my door with a trembling hand and my stomach did flips as I looked her up and down. Her hair was pinned up on one side and hung over her shoulder. And her dress . . .

  “Happy almost New Year,” she said, smiling as I tried take in all of her at once. Her silver dress cut right above her knees, leaving plenty of glorious leg on display and dipped in the front in just the right way. I’d have to work hard not to ogle.

  “Happy almost New Year,” I said, giving her a hug. She melted into me, and I stroked her hair with one hand. I had no idea how she got her hair to feel like that, but it was probably some secret girl knowledge.

  I wanted to hold her forever, but she pulled back before I was ready, and I tried not to notice. She smiled at me again and straightened my hat.

  “Did Lottie make you wear this?” she said as she shucked off her coat and I hung it up for her. Her skin glowed in the light and I forgot what she’d asked me for a second.

  “Maybe.” That made her laugh, and I slid my hand into hers and led her into the living room. Lottie rushed over and gave her a hug and then crammed a hat on her head as well. It probably looked goofy on my head, but just plain cute on hers.

  “Okay, so our parents may be out of the house, but they put the kibosh on any an all alcohol. So we have a large selection of sparkling juices,” Lottie said, gesturing to the table where five bottles of various non-alcoholic beverages waited to be opened. My parents were out at their own New Year’s party at the library where my mom worked and would be gone all night, but that didn’t mean that we were going to go wild and have a raging party. Because they would know. My mom always knew, even if we cleaned everything up and lied. She’d know, and it wasn’t worth even taking a chance so we were playing it safe. Plus, Lottie and Zan had sort of a traumatic association with booze anyway.

  “Okay, so we should probably order the pizzas now,” Lottie said, taking charge as I popped open a bottle of sparkling grape juice and poured Audrey a glass.

  “Thanks,” she said, not looking at me. I wanted to put my hand under her chin and make her look me in the eyes. She’d been withdrawing from me for weeks, and I didn’t know why and I was too much of a pussy to ask her. I wanted to know the truth, but I didn’t at the same time because if I did know, then it might be over between us, and it didn’t even feel as if we’d even really started.

  “You going to make any resolutions?” I said as we sat on the couch next to Zan.

  “I don’t think so. What’s the point of making a resolution on a specific date? If you haven’t done something already, then you’re probably not going to do it,” she said, sipping from her glass. I took a swig of mine to help out with my dry mouth situation.

  “No, we have to make resolutions! That’s why I made the Resolution Board!” Lottie said, pointing to a dry erase board with all of our names written on it. “I thought we could make it like a challenge. We can all put in some money, and whoever holds out the longest gets it. What do you think?” I thought it sounded like a dumb idea, but I would never tell Lottie that.

  “I think it’s inspired,” Simon said. “And it would be good to have incentive for us to follow through.” He would think it was a good idea. Brady, of course, agreed with him.

  “I’m in, L,” Zan said, smiling at Lottie. She could have said we were all jumping off a bridge and he would have been first in line. But I couldn’t judge him too harshly, because if Audrey said the same thing, I’d do it. I’d never been this into a girl in my life and it scared the shit out of me most of the time. I’d thought that I’d been in love with Kandy, my ex, but that had been more my dick talking than anything else. With Audrey, I felt like all of me wanted her, and not just the lower half of me.

  Everyone else agreed and by the time Stryker and Katie got to the house, most everyone had come up with their resolutions. Audrey’s was to keep her GPA above 3.8, which wasn’t much of a challenge because she’d probably never gone below that. I teased her about it, but she stuck with it.

  “Okay, what’s yours?” Honestly? I had no clue. The only thing I wanted to improve was our relationship, and for her to realize how much she meant to me, but t
hat wasn’t really something I could quantify. So I had to come up with something else. Once my sister knew I was struggling, she had to give me her input.

  “You should read more. Less gaming, more reading. Or how about no more Star Wars references? Oh, or you have to keep your hair cut?” I shot all of those down.

  “There is nothing wrong with my hair,” I said. “You like it, right?” I turned to Audrey, because if she told me to shave my head, I’d be the first one with a razor.

  “Nope, nothing wrong with it,” she said, sliding her hand up my neck and tugging a bit on the hair on the back of my neck. I coughed and shifted in my seat. Was it getting hot in here?

  “How about keeping your grades up?” Simon suggested. I guess that was as good as anything. It also matched what Audrey was doing.

  “Fuck that shit,” I heard Trish mutter under her breath.

  Everyone wrote down their goals on the whiteboard and then pooled our money, which totaled over a hundred dollars. I could definitely use the cash.

  “Okay, I think we need some music,” Stryker said, finally peeling himself from Katie’s side. “I’ve got everything out in the car.”

  “I think that’s our cue to go congregate in the bathroom,” Lottie said, nabbing Trish and Audrey’s arms and jerking her chin at Katie.

  “Typical. You want equality, but the minute you might have to lift something, you turn into a delicate female,” I said, knocking Lottie’s hat to the side. She snatched at my finger and glared at me.

  “Do that again and I will murder you with my twindar. You know I can do it.” I never underestimated my sister. I also didn’t underestimate the strange twin connection we had. I couldn’t explain it, exactly, other than saying it was magic, which sounded ridiculous. Lottie would probably like that, seeing as how she had a Harry Potter obsession. But then, so did Audrey and I would never mock something that she liked.

  God, I was whipped.

  The males got out the instruments as the females did whatever they did in the bathroom. Even living with a girl hadn’t clued me in to the mystery of what groups of girls did in the bathroom together.

  Stryker got his banjo going, along with Zan on his own, Trish on the guitar and Katie singing. It was a New Year’s Hootenanny. Audrey curled into my side and I couldn’t keep my hands off her hair.

  “Hey,” I said in her ear as the group started singing Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man.”

  “Hey,” she said back, looking at me. I put my hand under her chin and pulled her mouth toward mine. It had been far too long since I’d kissed her; I’d backed off because I thought that was what she wanted. But her lips were warm and yielding and she tasted like sparkling champagne with an undertone of vanilla.

  It was too bad there were so many people around, since something hit the side of my face only a few seconds into the kiss. I turned around to glare at my twin.

  “No sucking face until after midnight,” Lottie said.

  “You little hypocrite! You’ve been attached to Zan’s lips plenty of times tonight.” She definitely had. There were so many couples here that the kissing was almost constant.

  “Hey now. This is a night about love. If somebody wants to express it, then I’m all for it,” Simon said, and Brady gazed at him adoringly. Those two were something else. I’d never seen Simon so gone on anyone, and it was a little bit of an adjustment, but Brady was cool and I was glad Simon was happy. Finally.

  “Hear, hear!” Stryker said, raising his glass. Lots of toasting followed and then Lottie turned on the television so we could watch the party in New York City. The pizza finally arrived and we all ate and drank and were merry. The night would have been better with a beer, but you couldn’t have everything.

  As the clock ticked closer to midnight, we got our handfuls of confetti, poppers and noisemakers ready to ring in the New Year.

  I held Audrey close and instead of watching the glittering ball fall in New York, I watched her face.

  “Three, two, one, Happy New Year!” We yelled in unison and Audrey turned toward me for the traditional kiss. I wanted to linger on her mouth, but I had something more important to do. Holding her face, I gazed into her eyes and smiled.

  “I love you,” I said. “I love you.”

  As soon as I kissed him, I knew he was going to say it. I’d known for a while that he was going to tell me he loved me. Will might have thought he’d been subtle, but he was about as subtle as a slap in the face. He was sweet, though. So sweet it broke my heart.

  Will was . . . good. Will was good the way reading a book on a rainy day was good. He was good the way pancakes eaten in bed with syrup running down your chin were good.

  He was too good for me.

  His wide blue eyes looked at me as if I was the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen. His attention had been awkward at first. Fumbling. But even that was cute and endearing. As much as I’d tried to fight it, he’d worn me down and before I knew what was happening, I was falling for him. But falling made me think of traveling downward, when being with Will made me feel like I was floating on a cloud, boosted by his smile and his bad jokes, and the way his hair fell in his face.

  But it wasn’t meant to be, no matter how much I wanted it. So when he said he loved me, I couldn’t say it back. No, I could only say, “Thank you.”

  He blinked and the glow of happiness he’d had when he told me faded, like blowing out a candle flame.

  “Thank you?” he repeated. That was the best response I’d come up with, but it was still terrible. Inadequate. I might as well have punched him in the face.

  Confetti fell all around us, getting stuck in his hair and dusting his shoulders. It was probably all over me too. Everyone around us was cheering and embracing and excited. But Will . . . sweet Will.

  “I’m . . . I’m so sorry, Will,” I said and I couldn’t handle him looking at me anymore. I fled to Lottie’s room so he wouldn’t see me cry.

  Happy New Year.

  “I don’t understand,” Lottie said, pacing her room. I sat on her bed next to Trish and Katie. We’d taken our party hats off, but each of us still had confetti in our hair and little bits of it kept falling off Lottie as she walked back and forth.

  Her room was just as I’d pictured: cluttered and full of books. Well, at least on her side. Poor Lottie and Will had to share a room, but at least it was big enough that they could each have their own space and there was a curtain to separate her half.

  I’d asked her to pull the curtain so I couldn’t see Will’s half. I didn’t want to see his clothes scattered all over the floor and his sheets on the bed and posters of his favorite shows and movies on the wall. I didn’t want to be confronted with him right now. But in this house, escaping him was somewhat impossible.

  “I just don’t get it. Clearly, you love him and clearly, he loves you. So what’s the problem?” She seemed to forget that when she had completely fallen for Zan, she had to overcome several huge obstacles in order to move forward with him. Same with Katie and Stryker. But my situation was different. They just didn’t know why.

  I considered all of them my friends, but I just couldn’t seem to tell them everything. I’d tried, so many times. Especially with Lottie. She was so easy to talk to. Like her brother. I’d found myself telling her details of my life I’d never shared with anyone. An open book I was not, and I’d been comfortable with that for years.

  “I just . . . I couldn’t say it back,” I said, which was the best explanation I could give without saying more.

  “So you don’t love him?” Katie said, hugging one of Lottie’s pillows.

  “I . . .” It had grown harder and harder to lie to them, to these girls who had somehow become my friends, despite me trying to push them away. We’d been through a lot, the kind of things that bonded you like nothing else could. In only a few short months, I’d become closer with them than I’d ever been with any human beings before. Not my parents, not my brother or my sister, not anyone in my family. Bu
t my distance from my family was somewhat self-inflicted.

  They’d given up on me, but Lottie, Katie and Trish hadn’t. Yet.

  “Look, we don’t have to talk about it,” Katie said. She’d worn a pink dress, of course, and it exactly matched the new pink streaks in her hair. She’d lost her father and she was doing so well. I couldn’t imagine even being able to get out of bed in her situation, but she had a great support system. She was close with her sister, and then there was Stryker, who had stepped up and been her one-man support team. He’d brought all of us together to go and be there for her at the funeral. I was in awe of their relationship.

  Something made me wonder, if Will and I had been in the same position, if he would have done that for me. I shook my head, and tried to clear it of thoughts of him.

  I shouldn’t have come tonight, but I didn’t have any reason to say no, and I hadn’t been 100 percent sure that Will would tell me that he loved me.

  There was a knock at the door, and then Will’s voice made my heart twist painfully.

  “Can I talk to Audrey, please?” Everyone looked at me and I nodded.

  Lottie unlocked the door and let him in.

  “Alone, Lot,” he said when she didn’t move, but Katie and Trish exited after giving me worried looks.

  “Okay, but don’t do anything to make her upset. That’s all I’m asking,” Lottie said, touching Will on the shoulder. He might have been her brother and she would fight to the death for him, but she was also my friend.

  Will closed the door behind Lottie and leaned his forehead on it, not turning around to look at me.

  “I knew I shouldn’t have said it. That was so stupid. I’m so sorry, Aud.” The sound of his nickname for me made it even worse. I wished, in that moment, that a sinkhole would open up under me and suck me away so I wouldn’t have to keep hurting him.

  “Will, it’s not your fault. It’s mine. I’m so sorry.” My voice made him turn around. His eyes were red, but he wasn’t actually crying. The pain evident in them went right to my heart, a dagger sunk up to the hilt.

 
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